It would be easy to assume a lot about The Tent Shop, a new online store run by the Vancouver-based artist Jacob Gleeson — namely, that it might be in the business of selling tents. Or, with its deadpan write-ups and roster of vintage ephemera, amateur art, and back-catalog pieces by artist friends, that the shop might be some Canadian version of Partners & Spade, and Gleeson a hyper-aware collector engaging in an art-world prank, à la Claes Oldenburg’s The Store (1961). In fact, neither is quite true. The shop’s name stems from its planned incarnation in the physical world: Gleeson intends to purchase a heavy-duty canvas tent in which he can randomly host events around Vancouver. And as for Gleeson, though he did a stint at Vancouver’s Emily Carr University of Art + Design, he tends to view his new venture through the lens of an anthropologist more so than an artist or even a shopkeeper. “I started with the intention of showing these things together as much as wanting to sell them,” he says. “I’m drawn to the individual objects but something about putting them next to each other makes them even more interesting to me, which is why I leave things up on the site even after they’ve sold. The record of an object’s existence has as much value to me as the object itself.”
Gleeson’s interest in collecting and the nature of objects stretches all the way back to his days at art school, where he often used thrifting as a source of inspiration for his work. “I generally did photo and film stuff, but I eventually got into sculpture and installation, which led to collecting objects, which I’d then use as raw materials,” he says. So perhaps it makes sense that since graduation, nearly all of Gleeson’s projects have had a retail element; all of those amassed objects eventually had to end up somewhere. In the mid-2000s, burned out on openings and looking for something new, Gleeson ran into a friend who had purchased a building with an affordable storefront space. “It was weird, but Vancouver’s zoning laws demanded that it stay a grocery store,” remembers Gleeson. That limitation offered a sort of forced creativity, and Gleeson joined forces with his friend Gareth Moore to open St. George Marsh, a shop/gallery hybrid that included, among other things, vintage candies, a video rental, a garden, and nostalgic, stubby soda bottles, which the two sold as collector’s items. Gleeson went on to open two more collaborative retail ventures in the space.
The lease to that space has since expired, and if the rent weren’t so high elsewhere in Vancouver, Gleeson says he’d open a permanent spot in a heartbeat. But that’s why the idea for The Tent Shop was so palatable. “Online, it can be open 24 hours, 7 days a week, with no overhead other than a web fee. It’s more accessible than anything I’ve ever done.” His offerings include everything from ceramic sculptures to a black-framed, heart-shaped potato chip. “The retail element provides a familiar context to display things that other environments don’t,” Gleeson explains. “When you introduce articles that aren’t very ‘sell-able,’ it creates a kind of tension that I really enjoy: a challenge to instill value into something that wouldn’t normally be considered valuable.”
To find his stock, Gleeson scours thrift stores around Vancouver, but he also hits up his old art-school chums for older work that might be lying dormant in their studios or found objects they can donate to the cause. But he still downplays the art-world element to what he’s doing. “I don’t charge a commission,” he points out. “But even more, I think labeling something as art can sometimes cause a specific and limited interpretation, and maybe even take some fun out it.” Because at the end of the day, The Tent Shop is a hobby for Gleeson; he has a full-time job, so it ought to be something he enjoys. As such, he’s been using it as an excuse to reconnect with art-school friends with whom he lost touch, and to hone his writing chops. (A sample product description: “An old leather hockey glove with a nice color scheme. Would ideally suit a one-armed left-handed person…or someone who just likes old leather things. $20.” We were so charmed by the voice behind the shop, we gave Gleeson a selection of our favorite items and asked him to tell us the stories behind their provenance.
For It Chooses You, a resale shop popping up at Partners & Spade in New York, Miranda July scoured the New York classifieds, buying up other people’s discards — like a collection of stolen oil paints or a pair of taxidermied deer hooves — and interviewing the sellers to discern the original meaning of those once-cherished objects.
At Fair Folks & a Goat, a new retail gallery and tea salon hybrid on New York’s Upper East Side, everything inside the gracious late 19th-century studio apartment is for sale. Well, almost everything — a small candy dish that reads “When I count my blessings, I count you twice” was a gift from co-owner Anthony Mazzei’s mother and “it’s a million dollars,” he jokes, while the vintage paperbacks lining a wall of shelves constitute an actual lending library. Here, the props and merch blend into a seamless backdrop for a new kind of social gathering. “We wanted to create a space for young people to have a home away from home, where instead of alcohol and loud music it would be more like a physical incarnation of a magazine, with design, art, fashion, and culture,” says Mazzei.
As design-store owner Dave Alhadeff sees it, there’s a distinction between the kinds of craftspeople he is and isn’t interested in: The latter make objects primarily to show off their manual skills, while the former are motivated by a larger concept, a wish to make tangible some abstract artistic meaning. Carving toothpicks into forest animals? Skills. Carving porcelain into vases so mind-bogglingly intricate they appear to be made by machine? Concept. A subtle difference, but one that helps it seem slightly less absurd to picture Alhadeff — who runs The Future Perfect, one of New York’s most well-respected purveyors of contemporary design — roaming the aisles of a Westchester craft fair, chatting up potters and glassblowers. Concept, he explains, is what builds a bridge between pure craft and design.